Hot-headed gangster “Blackie” Gallagher (Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind) navigates through the sordid underbelly of city life to the consternation of his best friend Jim Wade (William Powell, Life With Father), who happens to be a respected D. A. Myrna Loy (Libeled Lady) plays the morally ambiguous woman loved by both men.
Reaction & Thoughts:
This famous Depression-era gangster melodrama (no pun intended), produced by the almighty Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has not dated well but it does offer enough goodies to keep you entertained.
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke (The Thin Man), Manhattan Melodrama won an Oscar for Best Original Story, but the script offers few surprises. It’s not entirely the filmmakers’ fault, though. The whole “friends-on-opposite-sides-of-the-law” thing has become a tired movie cliché: yesterday’s fresh twists and turns, today’s stale narrative.
However, the film does have a “confused” moral tone that’s interesting. Although Manhattan Melodrama proudly states that “crime doesn’t pay,” the amoral hoodlum is much more appealing than the righteous D.A., who comes off as rather cold and simple-minded. Intentional or not, you can’t help but feel bad for the criminal.
Never mind that, the three super-stars — Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy — are the main reason to watch Manhattan Melodrama — they do make a wonderful and fascinating love-triangle triangle.
Gable is charismatic as the “gangster-with-a-heart-of-gold.” Powell is suave as the dedicated D.A. Loy is elegant and witty as the woman caught between the two men (the film marked the first pairing of Loy and Powell — they made fourteen movies together). Interestingly, a very young Mickey Rooney (Babes in Arms) plays Gable as a boy (!). The cast also includes Leo Carrillo (Parachute Jumper), Nat Pendleton (Lady for a Day) and Frank Conroy (The Ox-Bow Incident) as Gable’s lawyer.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Manhattan Melodrama isn’t perfect, but it’s still an entertaining flick. I just think Warner Bros. was much better at this sort of thing (e.g. Angels with Dirty Faces). P.S. Manhattan Melodrama entered the history books as the movie that infamous bank robber John Dillinger had just seen before the FBI gunned him down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater. B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.